Oregon’s new distracted driving law in force

A comprehensive rewrite of Oregon’s distracted driving law is now in effect. Targeting various ambiguities in the old law, the new rules focus on the holding of “mobile electronic devices” such as smartphones.

“That’s the key,” says House Bill 2597 author Rep. Andy Olson. “The law doesn’t say you can’t use (cell phones and smartphones), you just can’t have them in your hand.”

Oregon distracted driver PSAThe plan also upgrades first-time infractions from Class C to Class B ($260 first offense). Two-time violators are looking at a $435 penalty. Third or subsequent convictions within a decade bring a minimum additional $2,000 fine plus possible jail time.

Senate President Peter Courtney had sought tougher penalties similar to those used for drunken drivers, but went along with the House Bill 2597 sanctions. He calls electronic distracted driving “an epidemic” in Oregon.

The new law also makes clear that motorists cannot use their handheld devices while stopped at a red light or stop sign.

The law does allow drivers to swipe a screen or touch a button to activate a device or application. It uses the term “mobile electronic device” instead of “communications device” in order to cover changes in technology.

The law also established “distracted driving avoidance courses” for first offenders, which judges can use to help first-time offenders avoid the $260 fine. The violation will remain on the offender’s record, however.

The final House vote on the rewrite of Oregon’s distracted driving law came June 30 and the governor signed the act in early August.

Oregon last stiffened its distracted driving laws in January 2014. The 2017 law has its roots in a 2015 state appeals court ruling that a person could be using a cell phone but not violating the existing handheld device law because no communication was involved. The court said the old law specified that “voice or text communication” was needed for a lawful traffic stop by police.

The Oregon Department of Transportation says a crash involving a distracted driver occurs every 2.5 hours in the state. “It has become an epidemic facing the country and the state with traffic fatalities and injuries increasing each year,” a department report said.

ODOT launched the DriveHealthy distracted driving campaign Sept. 1, in which groups compete via an application to become the state’s safest drivers by keeping their cell phones locked.

> Read more about Oregon’s distracted driving laws.


  1. Richard Brown says:

    This law is ridiculous and is just s “feel good” law. Holding the device is not the distraction and is not the problem. The distraction is THE CONVERSATION, not the act of holding the phone.

    This law will likely only cause more distractions and more accidents as drivers concentrate on not holding their phones … oh holding them in their laps … rather than concentrating on their driving. And it penalizes the less affluent who can’t afford new cars and all the new and expensive technology. SMH

  2. Al Cinamon says:

    According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “using a cellphone while driving increases crash risk. There is growing evidence that talking on a cellphone increases crash risk.”

    Yet the states continue to pass laws banning only “holding” the device. Instead they pass laws that encourage distracted driving. Oregon is now the latest offender.

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